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Do Ministry of Energy employees know more about hydrogen than scientists?

The Ministry of Energy of the Russian Federation (MinEnergo, as per the abbreviation in the Russian language, Минэнерго) proposed to transfer 10% of urban and intercity passenger vehicles to hydrogen already by 2030. This was reported by RBC with reference to the draft technological strategy for the development of the hydrogen industry. The document was developed by the Russian Energy Agency, a part of the Ministry.

Our officials are great, after all. They were told to develop hydrogen energy, and they took a lead and rushed to carry it out. As the saying goes, "When the Party says: Do it, the Komsomol replies: Yes!” But only six months have passed since the fateful government meeting, where the intention to occupy 20% of the world market of the lightest gas in nature was announced.

It is interesting to know with whom, in fact, are we dealing? Who is part of the group of authors of this momentous paper, the practical implementation of which will finally take Russia off the oil dependency and put it on the right track, on which the entire civilized world is rolling? What kind of education do they have? What knowledge of hydrogen do they have? Do they know something that scientists don't know yet, since they are making such grandiose and far-reaching plans?

The last question is particularly relevant, since 10% of the Russian buses fleet is around 40 thousand units. And the promise to produce them in eight years, when only a prototype is on hand, and nothing has been heard about the tests yet; to put it mildly, looks like a clear overestimation of one's own capabilities... But that's not the point. The fact that no one in the world has yet managed to organize the industrial scale production of transport operating on H2. Of course, airships are left out of the equation, since they have exploded too often, and therefore calling this part of the industry fully operational is not quite accurate.

To massly produce hydrofoils and specialized infrastructure, and an extensive network of gas stations; you need not only government subsidies and the desire to minimize the carbon footprint. We also need, to put in simple words... a slight transformation of the physical and chemical laws of the world around us. The task, of course, is not an easy one, but, unfortunately, there is no other way around it.

What are we talking about here? Hydrogen, as we know, takes pride of place in the periodic table of chemical elements. If anyone thinks that Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev put it there, as they say, "for fun", he is deeply mistaken. Our great chemist put it there because the hydrogen atom is the lightest in nature. And its molecule is so small that it can penetrate the crystal lattice of almost any steel.

That's why it's not as simple as loading H2 into existing gas pipelines, gas holders or fuel tanks. They will be destroyed sooner or later, and their contents will leak, escape and react with oxygen, after which, very violent explosions will occur. It is clear that they can be avoided only if special products, in particular tanks capable of guaranteeing 100% tightness, can be mass-produced.

Such technologies do exist, of course. But they are only used to build prototypes of hydrogen-powered machinery. There is no way to set up mass production and build the necessary infrastructure on their basis, there is not a single budget that can support such a colossal inversion of time and capital.

It is not enough to manufacture a hydrogen bus, which is 7-10 times more expensive than a regular bus. In order to have several such cars on the route, you also need to build at least a couple of fueling stations and several hydrogen carriers, which will deliver the "fuel of the future" there. And also, of course, a plant where this fuel will be produced, or a system of hydrogen pipelines through which it will come from other regions. Probably, we will also have to provide dedicated traffic lanes on our roads for this new type of transport: additional safety measures would have to be taken, since an accident involving hydrogen on a busy city street could lead to a depressurized fuel tank, a massive explosion, and numerous casualties.

Long story short: Hydrogen is expensive, uncontrollable and dangerous. That is why there's simply no market for hydrogen in the world today. And the demand for it is not provided by the energy sector or transport, but by the oil refining and chemical industries instead.

So why the authors of the strategy, do not hesitate to promise us in 8 years to transfer 10% of the passenger transport at once to an alternative and nobody mastered the energy resource? What is their optimism based on? Is it based on the lack of understanding of the problem? or is it, perhaps, the fact that they have found a way to "crack that nut"?

There is one more vital question. Why hydrogen? Why not, for example, helium? After all, in computer games, fantasy books and movies it now appears as the fuel of the future even more often than the first number of the Mendeleev table; and it has an even better image. All the same, blimps have noticeably spoiled the reputation of the H2, creating around it a certain negative background (if this is not believable, you can consult the story of the Hindenburg, available both in WIkipedia and in any Led Zeppelin cover album). Helium does not yet have such a trail.

Could it be that the document was written by people of the old school? Those who read Jules Verne as a child, and not Ian MacDonald. The first one, as you know, 150 years ago in his novel "The Mysterious Island" wrote that "water will one day be used as fuel, hydrogen and oxygen will be used, of which it consists". The second is our contemporary, specializing in cyberpunk and betting on a "more advanced" source of energy.

It is quite possible that very soon, when a young generation comes to the government, it will finally stop feeding us the tales of the French science-fiction writer and start thinking about the works of his Irish colleague and write a strategy for the development of the helium industry. Of course, nothing will change in principle. Buses will run on natural gas or be charged from the grid. But it will still be a bit more interesting to discuss the future of helium. After all, it's obvious that hydrogen as a fuel has already become a bit discredited.